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Key Events in the Struggle for Equality -
                 From Universal Suffrage to CEDAW  & Resolution 1325

            Women's rights are set out in many international human rights instruments. The most influential is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which came into effect in 1979, and which has been ratified by 186 countries. While the Convention aggressively asserts equality in domains of health, education, justice and social welfare, many countries pay only lip service, and are able to escape repercussions because of weak enforcement mechanisms. As well, many countries have put reservations on some of the most controversial articles, particularly Article 16, which addresses equality in “marriage and family life”.

            Women continue to be subject to numerous forms of violence, including domestic abuse, rape, sex slavery, child marriage and female genital mutilation. Each year, about 500,000 women still lose their lives during pregnancy or childbirth. Women produce 80 percent of the food in most developing countries, but receive less than 10 percent of the agricultural assistance and only own approximately 1% of the world’s land. Two thirds of the world’s 876 million illiterates are women and 70 percent of people in abject poverty (living on less than $1 per day) are women.

  • Though International Women's Day was adopted by the UN only in 1977, the idea for it began at the beginning of the twentieth century when women's struggles focussed on universal suffrage.  The  efforts and courage of women seeking social, economic, and political equality demanded, and finally achieved, symbolic recognition.
  • Gender equality as a fundamental human right was directly incorporated into the Charter of the United Nations in 1945, and was further codifed in the International Bill of Rights, consisting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and two International Covenants adopted in 1976.
  • International humanitarian laws for the rights and protections of women and girls were also contained in the four Geneva Conventions adopted in 1949 and their additional protocols (1977).  Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that "women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault."
  • Many Conventions of the United Nations impact significantly on women's issues, but the  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women.  Its Optional Protocols allow individual women or groups to submit claims of violations of rights to a Treaty Committee, or for the Committee itself to initiate inquiries.
  •  Unfortunately, despite these declarations and legal standards, the resources,  institutional mechanisms and political will for enforcement have been lacking.  Women and girls continue to suffer disproportionately.  Approximately 80% of people displaced by conflict or human rights violations are women and children. Deprived of the security of their community,  they are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation, trafficking, mutilation, and disease.
  • Attention on women's issues at the United Nations was maintained by a series of Women's Conferences which took place in Mexico (1970), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1995). The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, for example, set time-specific targets, committing nations to carry out concrete actions in such areas as health, education, decision-making and legal reforms with the ultimate goal of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women both public and private.
  • In l993, the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women for the first time defined violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."
  • In October 2000, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 1325  on women, peace and security.  Resolution 1325 marks the first time the Security Council explicitly addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women, recognized their under-valued contributions to conflict prevention and resolution, and stressed the importance of their equal and full participation as active agents in peacekeeping and peace-building.
  • Core crimes of sexual and gender violence -  rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, and other forms of sexual violence - were codified as being among the most serious of breaches under the terms of the International Criminal Court which entered into force July 1, 2002.  The ICC has now been ratified by 114 countries.
 Working for global human rights through global laws and institutions

The World Federalist Movement - Canada (WFM-C), founded in 1951, is a branch of the international World Federalist Movement (WFM) which is headquartered in New York City across from the UN, where it is an accredited NGO.

World federalists believe the best guarantee of universal human rights is a global community based on the rule of law and democratically accountable international institutions, and that governments, civil society, and international institutions have a fundamental responsibility  to protect civilians at risk.

During the 1990s, WFM coordinated the vast coalition of NGOs that successfully helped create the International Criminal Court  where human rights violators – from soldiers and civilians to generals and heads of state – can be brought to justice. Today WFM campaigns for the ratification of the ICC by all countries.

In the 2000s, WFM leads a new coalition lobbying for the global adoption of  “The Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) as a new norm for the prevention of crimes against humanity and for multilateral military intervention as a last resort when gross and systematic violations occur.  At the UN's historic Millennium + 5 Summit in 2005, WFM successfully pressed for the endorsement of R2P by the General Assembly.

Telephone:   (613) 232-0647


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